2 rockets could launch from Vandenberg AFB in April

The Visitor Control Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Michael Peterson)

The skies above the Central Coast could light up with two separate rocket launches next month.

Rockets from both United Launch Alliance and Firefly Aerospace are tentatively scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc in April, sources confirm.

United Launch Alliance said it plans to launch its Delta IV Heavy rocket, carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, no sooner than April 26.

The Delta IV Heavy rocket has launched from Vandenberg three times before, most recently in January 2019.

On March 17, ULA successfully completed a so-called “wet dress rehearsal” (WDR) of the upcoming launch at its Vandenberg launch pad. The rehearsal ran through “the intricate day-of-launch countdown activities for the national security mission coming up later this spring,” according to a ULA blog post.

“WDRs are milestones meant to mitigate any issues before the actual launch day arrives,” read the post.

The rocket is now just awaiting its payload.

Meanwhile, aerospace newcomer Firefly says it is getting closer and closer to the maiden launch of its Alpha rocket.

The aerospace company, which took over ULA’s retired Delta II facilities at Vandenberg, initially intended to launch its Alpha rocket in 2020, but setbacks delayed the launch to this spring.

In early March, Firefly director of commercial business development Eric Salwan told The Tribune the company was targeting an April launch, but could not provide a specific date.

Firefly CEO Tom Markusic told on March 25 that the company was “literally weeks away from being done” revamping its launch pad in preparation for the first Alpha launch, but also did not provide a specific launch date.

A request for potential launch dates was not immediately returned Monday.

How to watch Vandenberg rocket launches

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a popular public viewing area at Vandenberg Air Force Base known as the “Hawk’s Nest” didn’t open for a rocket launch in November, and it is unclear if officials will reopen the site for April’s launches.

A request for comment from Vandenberg officials was not immediately returned Monday morning.

Launches at the Central Coast military base often draw larger-than-usual crowds to the Lompoc area, packing both official viewing areas such as the Hawk’s Nest and unofficial viewing areas.

During pre-pandemic launches from the base, cars lined up along Ocean Avenue, also known as Highway 246, with hundreds of spectators sitting on top of their vehicles or on the side of the road waiting for the fiery spectacle to come shooting over the hills.

Other popular viewing sites include spots along Firefighter, Harris Grade and Santa Lucia roads.


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